Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Julia Child is Laughing At Me

I peeled my first ever tomato today, but, no, that is not why Julia Child is laughing at me. After I peeled the tomato I had to go lie down for a bit, else swoon right there at the kitchen counter.

One of the very few good things about being unemployed is I have more time to cook. My 20-odd years of vegetarian diet prior to moving to Pittsburgh three years ago consisted mostly of pasta, rice, beans, ordinary salads, and, of course, vegetables...but only a few vegetables, and always raw because I hate squishy cooked vegetables and that is usually what happened when I tried to cook them. After moving here, and cooking for, and with, someone not afraid to try different things, I started to expand my repertoire. Soy in all its many forms started appearing in meals. Salads became more than greens and a cucumber. After learning the delights of steaming and roasting vegetables, I even started eating asparagus, a vegetable I thought I hated. Vegetarian cookbooks were piling up in my kitchen and dinner became an adventure.

So, this afternoon I was preparing a new recipe, one with an odd name, Moors and Christians. It is an adaptation of a Cuban recipe and the author of the cookbook, 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes (Judith Finlayson), says the name refers to the time when Spanish and Moorish were at war. That made me think of the book I just finished reading, José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon, a delightful contemporary love story with a goodly amount of historic blood and gore spilled by Portuguese and Moors (and yes I know that Portuguese is not Spanish). So I am thinking about the book, which I really enjoyed, as I start peeling the tomato.

I really have never peeled a tomato before. Not in all my 50 years. I usually use canned tomatoes in recipes. But this one calls for one fresh tomato, peeled and seeded. I got my Wüsthof 4.5 inch utility knife (another thing about my new cooking skills...good tools!) and set to peeling. First pull of the skin, my knees buckle. The sound is what I can only imagine skin coming away from meat, human meat, would sound like. It is the sound I hear in my head when reading medieval stories of torture. Scenes in the Saramago book came to life in my head. In my hands I held a pulpy mess of red. Trying to put the images and sounds away, I quickly worked to get the rest of the tomato peeled, seeded and chopped, then put a cover over it and retired to my bed.

I'm going back to canned tomatoes. Already chopped canned tomatoes.